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City, county tussle over taxes - Odessa American: City Of Odessa

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City, county tussle over taxes

More agreement found on raft of interlocal agreements

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Posted: Tuesday, December 10, 2019 6:18 pm

City and county representatives spent 2 1/2 hours Tuesday afternoon discussing the 39 interlocal agreements that have long existed between the two entities and trying, without much success, to resolve their differences over collections of the county’s new 1.25-cent sales tax.

The city council, county commissioners court and staff members from both governmental bodies rescinded eight interlocals that they said were no longer needed while County Judge Debi Hays, presiding at a long table in the commissioners courtroom, appointed groups of two and three from both sides to make recommendations on the remaining 31 by the end of February.

City Attorney Natasha Brooks and County Attorney Dusty Gallivan noisily clashed not long after the discussion on the sales tax began with Gallivan disputing Brooks’ emphasis on the date listed in the notice the county sent to the Texas Comptroller’s Office in Austin about its eligibility to start collecting the tax that voters approved in November 2018.

Mayor David Turner called them down, saying he didn’t “need to have the lawyers fight,” but then Hays and City Councilwoman Peggy Dean, sitting across from each other, argued about the collections.

“We don’t want to take any of the county’s money,” said Dean, explaining that the city merely wants to levy taxes for services if it makes a voluntary annexation inside the county’s new assistance district.

Hays rejoindered that the city and county were arguing over the same taxpayers’ money and that the city’s enhanced collections would amount to “a double dip” from the taxpayers’ pockets.

Annexed property also gives the city additional property taxes.

The entities finally agreed for Turner and City Manager Michael Marrero to meet with Hays monthly to discuss mutual concerns and to confer and see if they can agree on the tax issues if the city decides it wants to annex inside its extraterritorial jurisdiction, which Brooks had said that as a conciliatory gesture it would reduce from five miles to the 3 1/2-mile ETJ it claimed before declaring itself to be over 100,000 in population last year.

Councilman Dewey Bryant said the dispute was attributable to poor communications and he called for the officials to better state their mutual interests and concerns in the future.

Others who took part in the meeting were Commissioners Eddy Shelton, Greg Simmons, Dale Childers and Armando Rodriguez and City Council members Detra White, Malcolm Hamilton and Mari Willis. Councilman Tom Sprawls was absent.

About 40 citizens attended, including Ector County Utility District attorney Bill Fowler, who asked that the ECUD be included in future communications.

Opening the session, which began with a good bit of cordiality among the participants, the panels agreed to eliminate interlocal contracts for joint emergency transmitting and station alerts, emergency medical services participation with Medical Center Hospital and Odessa Regional Medical Center, payments to the county for certificates of obligation pertaining to the Odessa Jackalopes minor league hockey team and infrastructure licensure for fiber optics and wireless equipment building sites.

Also rescinded were deals regarding a trailer lease for animal control, the restoration and preservation of the historic White-Pool House Museum, property exchanges of equal aggregate value and maintenance of the hazardous materials database for the County Emergency Communication District.

With the city paying $402,413 to the county each year for the Odessa Police Department to use the Ector County Detention Center, Sheriff Mike Griffis was called on to elaborate on current jail operations.

Griffis said housing his daily average of more than 800 inmates, about 200 of them outsourced to other counties, costs $42,000 per day or about $60 a day per inmate, but that expense will decrease when his newly completed jail expansion is fully staffed. He said he was optimistic about staffing because numerous applications are being made by aspiring detention officers.

Other interlocal agreements on which the small city-county groups will start working are for fire, EMS and dispatch services with $777,000 being paid annually by the county; animal control with $60,000 paid by the county in partial exchange for services from the county health department; and operation of the county coliseum with $50,000 paid by the city.

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